By Morgan M. Hurley | Contributing Editor
Long time Del Cerro residents Phyllis Strauss and Randi Hosking are not only friends and neighbors, they’ve also been business partners for the last five years.
The two women own Indigo Salon and Spa in Hillcrest, where they manage a crew of 40 employees — hair stylists, makeup and waxing experts, masseuses, acupuncturists, paramedical tattooists and others. They’ve grown the salon substantially since taking over and expanding its services. Indigo is a “no drama” salon, according to Hosking; that is until tragedy struck earlier this year.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 15, Oscar Melero, a long time Indigo independent hair stylist, was killed by a drunk driver while on his way to the California 10/20 race in Del Mar. Sitting in traffic on Interstate 5, Melero’s BMW was last in a long line of cars waiting to exit Via de la Valle when 24-year-old Abraham Beltran — a second offender with no driver’s license — slammed into the back of his vehicle traveling at 85 mph.
Melero was 52. An avid runner, Melero was on track to complete the San Diego Triple Crown this year, which includes the Carlsbad, La Jolla and America’s Finest City half marathons.
Strauss and Hosking have described Melero as central to the salon’s bustling business and culture, and they also credit him as the main reason the two decided to go into business together.
Strauss, a beauty product executive, had known Melero through mutual friends since before he entered beauty school. Hosking first met him 30 years before at the former Tops Salon in Mission Hills where they worked alongside each other and many of Indigo’s current staff are transplants from Tops and other salons Melero had worked at over the years. It was a very tight-knit group; the accident devastated the salon and created a huge void for many.
On the Saturday after the accident, Feb. 21, Melero had planned to host a baby shower for Michelle Ward, an Indigo stylist about to have twins and one of his closest friends. The gathering became a Celebration of Life instead and the already close staff became even closer as they grieved together, Hosking said.
Months later, as the court process drags on and charges and bail amounts continue to increase for the man accused of taking his life (a preliminary hearing for Beltran is set for August 13), those closest to Melero continue to find ways to keep his memory alive.
On May 31, a group of friends and clients ran the Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon San Diego together as a tribute to Melero, calling themselves “Oscar’s Angels” and wearing shirts emblazoned with his likeness. Dozens of others — also in the T-shirts — stood on the sidelines cheering them on.
On June 14, friends, family, colleagues and clients gathered again to celebrate Melero, this time on the grounds of the Hillcrest salon, to raise money for a cause that was always important to him: the homeless.
Titled “The Shirt Off Oscar’s Back” the three-hour fundraising event centered around a fashion show, with food and wine from local vendors and a live band. The proceeds were donated to Hand Up Youth Food Pantry, a division of Jewish Family Service.
Hand Up Youth Food Pantry feeds military families, the homeless, pregnant and parenting teens, older adults and low-income families from eight locations across San Diego County. Their website says they have helped feed nearly 10,000 people in the last year.
Strauss and Hosking are very vested in their communities, and giving back is part of their business model. As such, fundraising is something the Indigo staff looks forward to every year. This was their fourth annual fashion show event.
A breast cancer survivor herself who is currently living with the disease, Hosking launched the first fundraising fashion show with a breast cancer awareness theme and “Keep A Breast” as benefactor.
The Center for the Blind and the San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Youth Housing Project have also been benefactors in the past.
This year’s choice had a dual motive; Hosking’s children, Gavin and Jade, are going through B’nai Mitzvah, and charitable contributions of their time are a big part of the process.
“Fifteen people from the salon went with Gavin and Jade and volunteered at Hand Up Youth Food Pantry so we could see what it was all about,” Hosking said, adding that the organization is nondenominational and serves everyone in need, regardless of religious affiliation.
Melding one of Melero’s passions with her children’s rite of passage just made sense to the entrepreneur.
“It’s hard to explain to 13-year-olds why we do what we do,” Hosking said. “They probably thought it was going to be about breast cancer in the beginning, but when we lost Oscar, that quickly changed. Fortunately for [Gavin and Jade] they knew Oscar and loved him.”
Tanya McAnear, proprietor of Bad Madge, a vintage boutique-clothing store in South Park, curates Indigo’s annual fashion shows. This year she focused on local summer fashions from Bad Madge, La Bel Age, Jennafer Grace, Ashley Tipton and others.
“Tanya puts it all together for us and we do the hair and make-up for the models,” Hosking said.
The name of this year’s event, and its symbolism, came from Darcy Cole — a colleague of Melero’s for over 17 years — and a story she has often told about her friend.
“Oscar and I were at the boardwalk on a run,” Cole said. “It is a six-mile loop and we were almost all the way done. During the run, Oscar had taken his shirt off and tucked it in his back pocket; somewhere along the way it fell out and he ran like two miles all the way back to find it.
“A while later he finally came back and he still didn’t have his shirt on,” she continued. “I said, ‘Where’s your shirt?’ and he said when he got there a homeless man was wearing it and he didn’t have the heart to ask for it back.”
“He cared about anybody that was down and out and less fortunate,” Hosking added. “He was such a good person.”
“Oscar’s Angels” T-shirts were available for purchase at the event, and Hosking said those who weren’t able to attend can still come by the salon to make a donation or buy a shirt and contribute to Hand Up on Melero’s behalf.
Update: Indigo Salon and Spa raised $4,500 for Hand Up through their “The Shirt Off Oscar’s Back” fundraiser.
—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.